Elham Asaad Buaras
Three American Muslims who were placed No Fly List by the FBI in retaliation for their refusal to become informants appealed the dismissal of their lawsuit against the FBI on July 29.
The No Fly List was created by the US Government’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) after the September 11, 2001 attacks. In June a top lawmaker revealed to the Washington Times that the FBI list contains about 81,000 names, but fewer than 1,000 of those are “US persons”.
The list has been criticised on civil liberties grounds, due to ethnic, religious, economic, political and racial discrimination. It has also raised concerns about privacy and government secrecy.
FBI agents told Muhammad Tanvir, Jameel Algibhah, and Naveed Shinwari their named would be removed from the list if they agreed to serve as spies in Muslim communities – not because the Government suspected involvement in crime, but simply because the Bureau was interested in collecting information on American Muslims.
Last summer, only days before the first major court hearing in their case, the men received letters from the TSC confirming their removal from the list and effectively conceding what they never posed a security threat of and that the FBI only listed them to coerce them into spying on their faith community.
Later, the judge dismissed their claims to seek damages for the harm they suffered as a result of being placed on the list.
As a result of their placement on the No Fly List the trio were unable to see wives, children, sick parents, and elderly grandparents overseas for years. They lost jobs, were stigmatised within their communities, and suffered severe financial and emotional distress.
In a statement to The Muslim News the Senior Managing Attorney for the Center for the Constitutional Rights, Shayana Kadidal, said: “Unless there are consequences for constitutional violations, there is nothing to prevent them from recurring in the future.”
“Though our lawsuit forced the Government to undo our clients’ abusive placement on the No-Fly List, removing people from the list alone cannot repair the harms they suffer while on it.”
Prior to lawsuits challenging the No-Fly List, the Government operated the list in near-total secrecy and never told people why they were on it or gave them a chance to dispute their placement. Despite some reforms made under the pressure of litigation, the procedures governing who is placed on the list and how to challenge their placement remain gravely deficient, and the lack of transparency and accountability still leaves the No-Fly List, and other watch lists, ripe for abuse.
“FBI agents target vulnerable American Muslims on a regular basis, including those with financial, immigration, or criminal issues,” said CLEAR Staff Attorney Naz Ahmad. “Because our clients had none of those vulnerabilities, FBI agents had to create one before they could exploit it.”
In dismissing the case, the district court reasoned that even if the federal agents had violated the Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 currently does not afford a damages remedy for the specific type of religious and speech retaliation the men suffered. However, most other courts have ruled that it does, and the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel agreed in a published opinion in 1994.”
Another list maintained by the FBI, dubbed the “TSA selectee list” because it triggers higher scrutiny but doesn’t ban flying, has some 28,000 records, of which fewer than 1,700 are Americans.